I feel like I'm being babied but I also can't handle the truth.
September 9, 2016 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm working in an office full of men doing administrative work. I've screwed up several times and I'm surprised I haven't been let go. I come off as unconfident and meek and my boss has commented on this several times. I somehow have the nagging suspicion that he would let go of any of the men in the office if they had made the same mistakes that I have.

While I am grateful that my team leader is protective of me, I can't help but think that he is hiding his disappointment in my work. It is all very tedious work and it is very easy to make a mistake if I am not paying close enough attention. I've generally always had trouble with tasks which are repetitive and detailed oriented so I'm not really surprised that I've made several mistakes.

At the same time, knowing that I've made mistakes makes me feel really badly about myself. I feel like my boss would have been harsher if it was done by someone else. I think he is almost afraid of hurting me because I come off as being so unconfident. I've put all of this pressure on myself to be just as good, if not better than all of the men in the office. I'm also somewhat attractive and I'm terrified of getting the "pretty but stupid" label.

I'm feeling very conflicted right now . How do I approach this situation? Am I overthinking it?
posted by sheepishchiffon to Human Relations (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
With very little editing, you could sit down with your boss, read this to him and probably have a better idea of things within a minute or two. Sometimes it's just that easy. Whatever you do - best of luck! Oh, and as for the over-thinking, you might very well be, but you still are doing it and will probably continue to do so until you feel more comfortable with your situation.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a very new job, right? Any remotely complicated gig has a learning curve of six months to a year. I bet dollars to donuts that the reason your boss hasn't fired you is that you're well within the parameters for newish staff.
posted by Frowner at 5:37 PM on September 9, 2016 [20 favorites]

I think you are overthinking this, in the sense that your focus seems to be on what your boss thinks of you instead of what you can do to improve your work.

I would approach it one of two ways:

1) Own it. Show confidence by going to your leader and calling out your own mistakes, and asking for advice on what you might be able to change to be more accurate or efficient. Take time to double check things next time. If you make mistakes when you're not paying attention, well - pay more attention next time. Devote your focus to the tasks. Identify the mistakes and see if you can find a common cause, and work to address that. Owning it this way will go a long way to not only how your boss sees you, but better yet how you see yourself.

2) Change it. If you recognize that the kind of work you do has errors because it involves aspects that you know make you prone to mistakes, then move on to a different position, there or elsewhere, where you can let your natural abilities come out and excel in a different type of work. I know how frustrating and self-image-harming it can be to struggle with something you want to be better at when, in the back of your mind, you know it's not the right thing for you. Best thing I ever did was to face that reality and find something that better suited my skills.
posted by SquidLips at 5:46 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two questions for you:

1. How frequent, and how severe, are the mistakes you make?
2. How long have you been in the workforce, e.g. are you recently out of school?

I ask both of these questions because it's a common rookie misconception to assume that you're making more mistakes than your coworkers. Everyone makes mistakes, more often than you think, and it's especially common with tedious work that requires constant attention to detail. At one of my jobs, I used to feel bad whenever my work got less than 100% from QA; then I became the QA reviewer and quickly discovered that all my teammates had been messing up at the same rate. If you're not losing the company thousands of dollars or leaving scalpels in patients, some amount of mistakes is acceptable.

If you want to dig deeper on this and boost your confidence at the same time, have a one-on-one with your boss and tell him, "I want to reduce the frequency of my mistakes. I'd like your feedback on what you consider an acceptable number of errors, and if you have any suggestions for things I could do to improve my rate." Come armed with ideas that you'd want to implement: checklists are good for repetitive tasks that involve multiple steps; setting work aside and coming back to it with fresh eyes can help you count errors; depending on your workload and your team structure you may be able to get a coworker to doublecheck your stuff.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:53 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I somehow have the nagging suspicion that he would let go of any of the men in the office if they had made the same mistakes that I have.

Ask your boss for objective data. It sounds like you have none.

Ask for it in the form of "I am trying to do better in my job and I need some means to guage my perfoemance objectively. Can you give me any idea how common these kinds of mistakes are, how serious they are, and any feedback on how I can get better? Can I shadow someone more experienced or is there a particular measure or process I should prioritize?"

I always felt like a screw up at work because they kept such feedback confidential. So I had no idea how bad my problems were in the grand scheme of things. I wasn't an awesome employee, but I wasn't atrocious either. They fired people worse than me and it gave me some idea of what really bad actually looked like.

I wasn't a star employee, but I wasn't in danger of being fired either.

It sounds like you really have no idea how you actually compare to others. Try to find out in general terms.
posted by Michele in California at 6:38 PM on September 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

I've had at least one manager "gentle" their approach towards me based on how they read my face and tone of voice, and it definitely felt gendered and gross and unnecessary, because even though I can be sensitive and lack in confidence I don't need to be treated like a cat hiding under the bed, you know? But I, too, think you are focusing on the wrong thing, here.

Aside from the other good advice above, I want to add: Don't worry that one job/workplace/professional experience is going to "label" you.
posted by sm1tten at 7:40 PM on September 9, 2016

From looking at your question history, it looks like you're brand new to the work force and this job. It's normal to make mistakes, especially when you're so new. I can guarantee you that your team mates also make mistakes all the time. You just don't hear about it because a lot of people don't talk about how they messed up and it would be unprofessional for your boss to talk to you about other people's mistakes.

Since your boss has already voiced concerns about you, this is the perfect opportunity to have a meeting with him and try to develop a plan for working on your confidence and working on avoiding further mistakes. For example, you might tell him about how you've realised that you were making mistakes because you weren't paying enough attention to details, but that you're not going to strive to be more detail oriented. Hopefully he's a good leader who wants to help develop his team and he'll try to help you be less meek.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 8:58 PM on September 9, 2016

I have dealt with this as the only female developer on a team of men. For me, it ended up being way more related to my big boss's sexism and not an honest performance issue-- I could tell he thought less of me but my main boss continued to help me grow and provide useful feedback.

One actual benefit was that any time I pulled off something cool, the sexist boss was more impressed than I think he would he if I were a dude. So you could think of it that way?
posted by possibilityleft at 9:02 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have had someone work for me who was often unconfident, and occasionally made normal mistakes, sometimes simple errors, sometimes because they were new to the role. They felt their mistakes were much more serious than I did and than they actually were. The end result was that they effectively chose to leave because they thought they weren't good enough. This was *my* big mistake as a new manager. This person was plenty good enough, and I am cross with myself that i was unable to get that over to them.

I'm telling you this because I would be surprised if you have an objective view of your performance compared to others. Don't self-sabotage. Find out how your performance is, and work out how to improve it. It is normally ok to make mistakes at work. If it is not ok, there should be systems and processes in place to prevent mistakes and you should always follow these. Any place that will not tolerate mistakes and doesn't have adequate systems to prevent them is a bad place to work.

Also, if your boss is commenting on your unconfidence and meekness but not your mistakes, they may see you improving your assertiveness and confidence as more important or urgent than improving your technical performance.
posted by plonkee at 1:17 AM on September 10, 2016 [10 favorites]

Irrespective of how your performance compares to that if your coworkers-if this job requires you to be detail oriented the majority of the time and detail orientation is something you struggle with for more than short stretches of time this job is gong to be extremely draining for you. By all means use this job to learn about being in the work force and such but if you are right about that aspect consider what your strengths are and work out how you could use them at work, maybe in a different job. And long-term, find a job that allows you to use your strengths.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:40 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

1) Let your boss worry about your performance, it's their job. If they say they're happy, you should be happy.

2) Here's tip that will serve you well in almost any job: come to your bosses with solutions, not problems. They will love you for it.

In this context, that means scheduling a meeting with your boss, and saying, "These are areas I've identified that I would like to improve/strengthen in my performance, and here are the actions I will do over the next 90 days/six months/year to lift these areas up. Firstly, do you agree that these would be good areas for me to focus on, and secondly, do you agree that these are the best actions I can take to improve? Do you have any other suggestions or alterations? Finally, would you agree to having a 30 minute meeting with me once a month/quarter/six months where we can go through this plan, look at what I've actioned, and I can get your feedback on whether you're seeing an improvement or not?"

If someone new to a role and new to the workforce does something like this to a manager, it will blow their minds. But you have to take it seriously, write a proper plan and proper actions. Don't put it on your manager to develop it.

Best of luck buddy, I bet you're doing fine.
posted by smoke at 6:08 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

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